User Story Mapping

I read a wonderful book, User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton. If you are a Product Manager in an Agile environment and are to read only one book, then make it this one. It is not only eye-opening, insightful and full of content, it is also funny. I laughed and learned a lot.

What is User Story Mapping? It is a technique he developed over time and with experience, which helps writing effective user stories for a product backlog. In fact, the crucial point here is not writing them but living them and making them happen together with your team. The stories have value as long as there is a shared understanding for them among the team and the stakeholders, i.e. that they make sense and the same sense to everybody on the team. So much so that they want to to deliver it.

User Stories are typically little stories composed of a sequence of tasks that a user of a (software) product would do to accomplish something. For example, a user story can be “Reserve a Thai Restaurant online for tonight” and it would consist of the following following tasks: Open your favorite search engine — Search for a Thai Restaurant — Select your favorite — Visit the restaurant website — Click on online reservation — Enter reservation date and time — Confirm and send. Now this is a very basic illustration of a story, but it can give you the idea. The tasks in the story are to be read from left to right, in the so called narrative order, so that with the last task you read you know the whole story.

Why is User Story Mapping good a thing? Because it gives structure and a backbone to the your product development process. It helps you to frame the who, the what and the why for your product. In other words, it lets you define your users, your product, and the benefit your users will get out of your product. All makes sense, no? Otherwise why would you bother producing your product?

User Story Mapping’s structure is like this:  On the way to developing your product you have several Goals to achieve. Each one of these Goals are composed of Activities, and those are broken into Stories. A sequence of Tasks in a given order (left-to-right) make a Story. Tasks may have Subtasks (e.g. putting on my shoes is a subtask of getting dressed). In this way, a Story can but doesn’t have to yield  a MVP (Minimum Viable Product), but a few of them together should yield at least a Minimum Viable Solution (MVS).

If there are too many Stories, then there are potentially multiple MVPs (or MVS for that matter). So those Stories should wait the next iteration(s) to be included.

A User Story typically has the following format: As a <Role> I want to <Functionality> so that I can <Value>. For example, as a <jazz music fan> I would like to <know the weekly concerts in my town>, so that I can <buy tickets online automatically>. This format conveys the necessary information in a clear and concise way. It gives a first overview of what the system has to offer for that type of user (also called Persona) i.e. the jazz music fan.

For the fun of it, I did a User Story Map for myself, while hoping it can show you its power. It shows the structure that I have been describing. My product is: Pinar’s New Life in Barcelona. This product offers me a new life at a new city, therefore I think it will add a lot of value to my life in general. I expect it to be a wonderful product and this is the User Story Map towards the first MVP.

Product: Pinar’s New Life in Barcelona
Goal: Release new life in Barcelona
Activities:
Activity 1: Set up social life
Story 1.1: As a <Newcomer> I want to <Rent a Flat> so that I can <Live>
Task 1.1.1: Search for flats to rent
Task 1.1.2: Make appointments for visits
Task 1.2.3: Sign contract
Story 1.2: As a <Newcomer> I want to <Find Friends> so that I can <Socialize>
Task 1.2.1: Find relevant social events
Task 1.2.2: Visit social events
Task 1.2.3: Join hobby clubs
Task 1.2.4: Exchange contacts with participants/members at the events
Story 1.3: As a <Newcomer> I want to <Learn Spanish> so that I can <Communicate>
Task 1.3.1: Find a language school
Task 1.3.2: Register to the language school
Task 1.3.3: Follow classes
Task 1.3.4: Do homework
Activity 2: Set up professional life
Story 2.1: As a <Newcomer> I want to <Find a Job> so that I can <Get an Income>
Task 1.3.1: Prepare CV
Task 1.3.2:Search for relevant vacancies
1.3.2.1: Subtask: Search on the Web
1.3.2.2: Subtask: Search among the personal network
Task 1.3.3:  Apply for the vacancy
Task 1.3.4: Go to interview
Task 1.3.5: Sign contract

User Story Mapping is a fun and powerful tool to create and structure your stories towards your first MVP. The book itself, besides being fun, brings you closer to the principles of Lean.  Hope you discover it for yourself as well and drop me line if you do so 🙂

 If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story. Orson Welles

Self Compassion

If you are like me, you also lack self compassion. It means you do not love yourself enough and accept yourself the way you are. Probably you are also a perfectionist which goes hand in hand. Ironically, you can be a very compassionate person to the others. You can feel their pain as well as pleasure, have lots of empathy, you may want help others and easily forgive their severest mistakes. Yet, when it comes to you it is a different story.

How does lack of self compassion manifest itself? In sum, you predominantly have negative thoughts about yourself. You are not smart enough, slim enough, successful enough, not a good enough dancer, not a good enough mother…You see the connection with perfectionism? You create a totally unrealistic figure of the perfect you and you constantly judge yourself and punish yourself for not being that. You do not realize that no human being can be that perfect figure simply because we are humans and we cannot be flawless. Instead of saying “well, I am the way I am and I am enough”, you nonstop worry about not having performed good enough. Performing is the keyword here.

People without self compassion define their worth according to how well they perform anything. It goes like: I have succeeded in managing these 5 projects, so I am a good project manager, so I am worth existing. It follows that if I did not succeed I do not deserve to exist. Similarly: I have danced the whole night with the best dancers, so I am a good dancer, so people love me because I dance well, so I deserve to exist.  Which also means if I do not dance well, people do not love me and I should not exist. Welcome existential fear. To avoid that fear we madly try to become perfect and enter a vicious cycle.

The reasons for lack of self compassion come from our childhood. No surprise. We might have been raised up in a family that values perfection, performance and achievement. For example, you may have been rewarded if your room was always clean and tidy, if you did not cry, if you did not ask for things. You may have been punished otherwise. As a result, you learned that to be loved and appreciated by your parents, whom you depend on to exist, you have to perform well. Your being loved depends on a condition, which propagates to the later stages of your life. In the end, you do not know what is unconditional love, so that you cannot love yourself unconditionally either.

Once I understood the concept, I started to work on it. I have to say it is very hard work, at least for me. Some days I succeed, some days I fail. Everyday I practice to embrace myself the way I am. If I put on 2 kilos I try to tell myself it does not change the fact that I have friends who like me with or without my 2 kilos, that I am still healthy and free. If I fail in a job interview, I try to analyze what happened and if there is anything I can improve on my side for the next one. Yet, I do not go around saying to myself I am not good enough, smart enough etc. Instead, I try to think of all my accomplishments until now. I may reread my CV to remind me of those. If I have a quarrel or conflict with someone, I try to understand the situation and put myself in her shoes before I jump start blaming myself for the things I did or said wrong. She may also be on her bad day and not being fair to me. And most importantly I breathe a lot. We forget to breathe so easily because we are so carried away by our thoughts, beliefs and fears. Breathing calls me back to here and now and releases a lot of tension from my body.

Finally, there is a researcher I discovered, Dr. Kristin Neff, who works on self compassion and whose findings helped me quite much. Here are the daily short exercises she recommends. Here is her website, Self Compassion.org, which has lots of resources and a TED talk. I read her book as well, which I recommend if you have time or want to take the time for it.

When the light has been removed and my wife has fallen silent, aware of this habit that’s now mine, I examine my entire day and go back over what I’ve done and said, hiding nothing from myself, passing nothing by. For why should I fear any consequence from my mistakes, when I’m able to say, “See that you don’t do it again, but now I forgive you.”

Seneca

Fear of Life by Alexander Lowen

“One day I read a book and my whole life was changed”. This is what Orhan Pamuk writes in his book “The New Life”.  That is a difficult book, it cost me a lot of time and energy to understand, if I did at all…But. Recently, I read a book.  My whole life was changed. No. Just, everything fell in place…It is a book by Alexander Loewen called the “Fear of Life“. It is a book that you find searching in the category ‘Psychology’ in Amazon. It is such a coincidence how I landed on this book… I am grateful.

After having read the book many things fell in place. Even my education on English language and literature. The book discusses the Genesis, the Fall and the Greek mythology extensively.

I found this book because of tango. How could you tell…I stumbled upon a blog one day called the Tango Principles. The author was talking about a therapeutic approach called Bioenergetics and how it helped  him overcome the tensions in his body. Being the curious person am I went on reading.

The founder of this school called Bioenergetic Therapy is Alexander Loewen. He has numerous books and is the founder of the institute with the same name. I started reading him. A lot.

It is a beautiful book which wakes you up to yourself and to life, if you let it. A few years ago I may not have understood many things I read, or connect with. But now everything falls in place… Loewen’s main message is that we cannot be happy if we ignore our bodies and operate only with our minds. Yet, our cultural society and the civilization drive us to do so and reward us when we do so. We are all after success, money, titles, possessions because we equate them to happiness and security.  Are they?

If freedom is happiness, how free are we when we have all those things? He says we don’t need much to be happy, we just need to ensure that our ‘self’ is aligned with our body. Meaning listening to what comes from our heart,  core and physical body and not only or mainly from the left side of our brains.

So true. I had to think back about my life and decisions…everything I decided with my heart and ‘belly’ felt right and made me happy…All decisions resulting only from rational thinking turned out to bring me unhappiness sooner or later.

Why do we do that though? Why do we ignore our instincts and always go with the mind? Because the civilization and acculturation educates us to do so. But then, Loewen says, our bodies are so much older than our minds. They are the products of millions of years of evolution, they have been through things. Our bodies know. All we need to do is to trust them more and let go.

Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease. Hippocrates

Decisive by Heath Brothers

Read it if you want to understand why you decided the way you did, or better yet, if you are still unsure. One of the best non-fiction books I have read. In it you will find concrete life stories, which can happen or could have happened to you. Well written, therefore easy to read. It makes you think.

What stuck:

  • Widen your options; you don’t have to decide only between this or that
  • Find out about what else
  • Ask yourself what you would have done, if you were stuck with what you have
  • And what you would have done 10 years from now
  • Be prepared to fail: Have a plan B in case the things don’t turn out the way you expected